After losing our twin girls at 20 weeks gestation, my world completely fell apart. As I gingerly attempted to reintegrate my new, raw reality with the life I used to know, I often found it jarring. Relationships that used to just work felt awkward. Sometimes words that meant to comfort felt like sandpaper to my soul, and surprisingly, people I barely used to know became life-long friends.
My loss had made me an outsider to many. While friends and family wanted to support us, they didn’t know how. How do you help someone whose world has fallen apart? What do you say when your friend has just said goodbye to her first two babies? How do you come alongside someone as they try to make their way back?
I know it’s awkward being around someone who’s grieving. It was awkward for me, too. This is what I wish I could have told my friends when the pain was raw and new. The pain is familiar now, which makes it easier to breathe. I wish that no one else would ever know what pain like that feels like, but sadly I know that someone somewhere is probably feeling it right now. If you know someone who is grieving, I hope this can help you as you try to help them.
Please Don’t Say That
My heart has been shattered, my world forever changed. The me you knew is gone, and I am still discovering the new and very different me. I know I am not easy to be around right now, and I find it hard to express what I need and how I feel.
So please don’t…
- tell me how “so-and-so” coped with grief.
- that you understand, or suggest how my grief journey should be. My pain is unique, and my journey will be also. It may not look anything like what yours would look like.
- judge me.
- compare my loss to the loss of your grandmother, your pet dog, or even your favourite teacher. It is different — each loss is. Comparing only makes me feel alienated from you.
- tell me “all things work for the good” or “everything has a purpose” or “God let this happen for a reason.” Although all these things may be true, I am not in a place where hearing them is helpful right now. When life falls apart, well-intentioned people use these words to try to right the world again. My world is completely upside-down. Words cannot put it back the way it used to be. I have not turned my back on God; church just is a tough place to be right now. When sitting at church I feel very alone with my pain.
- don’t try to make me feel better by “looking on the bright side.” I would give anything to be exhausted from sleepless nights or chasing after a screaming toddler. Having no responsibilities and a “pre-baby” body are not all they are cracked up to be.
These Things Help
Talking about my lost children is always a good thing. Don’t feel that you are “reminding me of pain” — I never forget. Talking about them validates their existence; it brings back all the positive memories. When you talk about them, it gives me the freedom to talk back and I need that.
I need to laugh — sometimes at the same time as needing to cry. Please let me do both.
I am excited for you when you are happy. Even when that might involve an aspect that is sensitive to me — like a new pregnancy. There are days when I won’t be able to articulate this well, but it is always true. I will always be excited for you, although sometimes my excitement might be overshadowed by my pain. Please don’t hold back your excitement because of me; it doesn’t make me feel better.
I need you right now. I don’t always say it, and find it tough to reach out, but more than ever I need to know I am loved and prayed for. Please don’t stop calling me, even when I don’t call you back. Sometimes dialling the numbers is just too much for me, but I always appreciate the thought. Do tangible things for me — do not just offer to help. Normally an offer would be enough, but right now getting up in the morning, taking care of basic tasks, and somehow making it through each day take every bit of energy that I have. Even if I desperately need help, asking might be more than I can bear.
My grief will not disappear, I will not “get better.” It will change, it will morph, but it will not go away. Sometimes the grief is a raging monster, obvious to all, making it difficult to do even the simplest things like breathe. At other times grief silently sits in the corner, biding his time. Others can’t see him, but I still know he is there — leaving a quiet, dull ache in my soul. As time goes on, there are more quiet days than not, but grief is always there, even when you can’t see it.
I have been forever changed by grief. The “me” that used to exist is now changed. There are a few more rough edges; I am not as tidy as a package. But I am still me — and I need you to accept this new version. I did not choose this path that I am on; I would not have ever chosen it. The only choice I have left is what to do with it — and I am in the process of figuring that out. I am on a journey and need you to support me on my path.